Asch A 345 – The Wayfaring Stranger – 1944

On June 14, we commemorate anniversary of the birth of Burl Ives, star of stage, screen, radio, and records.

"The Wayfaring Stranger" by Burl Ives. Cover photograph bu Gjon Mili.

“The Wayfaring Stranger” by Burl Ives. Cover photograph bu Gjon Mili.

Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives (what a name) was born on June 14, 1909 near Hunt City in rural Illinois, one of seven children of Scots-Irish farmers Levi and Cordelia Ives.  As a child, while singing in his mother’s garden, he was discovered by his uncle, who invited him to sing at his old soldiers reunion.  Ives made his first recording in 1929, a test for the Starr Piano Company of Richmond, Indiana, makers of Gennett Records, though no record was issued, and the masters were destroyed.  After dropping out of college, Ives hoboed across the states as an itinerant folk songster during the Great Depression.  He began appearing on Terra Haute, Indiana’s WBOW around 1931, and in 1940, began hosting a radio show of his own, called The Wayfaring Stranger.  In 1938, he made his Broadway debut in Rodgers and Hart’s The Boys from Syracuse.  After working with the left leaning Almanac Singers in the early 1940s, Ives was drafted into the United States Army in 1942, receiving a medical discharge the following year.  Ives began his long career in motion pictures, appearing in the 1946 Western Smoky as a singing cowboy.  In the early 1950s, Ives was blacklisted as a suspected communist, and testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee.  Throughout the 1950s onward, he continued to have a prolific career in music and pictures.  In 1964, he made his most enduring appearance in the Rankin/Bass television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, narrating the program as Sam the Snowman.  Burl Ives died of cancer on April 14, 1995, at the age of eighty-five.

Asch album A 345 was recorded in 1944.  Try as I might, I can’t seem to locate a source giving the exact date.  Going by the matrix numbers, I’d venture it was recorded sometime early in that year, January or February, possibly even late in 1943.  It was re-issued on the Stinson label in 1947.

One the first disc in the set, Ives sings two songs per side.  On the first, he sings his signature song “Poor Wayfaring Stranger”, which lent its name to the album, and “Buckeyed Jim”.  On the second, he sings “The Bold Soldier” and “The Sow Took the Measles”.

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Poor Wayfaring Stranger and Buckeyed Jim, and The Bold Solider and The Sow Took the Measles, recorded 1944 by Burl Ives (The Wayfaring Stranger).

On the second, Ives sings “The Foggy Foggy Dew” and “Black is the Color”.  Years earlier, Ives was thrown in a Utah jail for singing the former, which was considered a bawdy song.

The Foggy Foggy Dew and Black is the Color, recorded

The Foggy Foggy Dew and Black is the Color, recorded 1944 by Burl Ives (The Wayfaring Stranger).

The third disc of this set features Ives’ first recording of the classic minstrel song “The Blue Tail Fly” (probably better known as “Jimmy Crack Corn”) which, in my opinion, is done masterfully.  On the reverse, he sings the traditional Scottish folk song “Henry Martyn (Pirate Ballad)”

The Blue Tail Fly and Henry Martyn (Pirate Ballad), recorded 1944 by Burl Ives (The Wayfaring Stranger).

The Blue Tail Fly and Henry Martyn (Pirate Ballad), recorded 1944 by Burl Ives (The Wayfaring Stranger).

MacGregor & Sollie MS 2635/6 – The Texas Drifter – 1938

On this day, we remember the Texas Drifter, Goebel Reeves, singing hobo of the 1920s and ’30s, on the anniversary of his birth.  To commemorate the occasion, here is one of the last recordings Reeves made.

Goebel Leon Reeves was born on October 9, 1899 in Sherman, Texas to a middle class family.  His father sold shoes and his mother was a music teacher.  After his father’s election to the Texas state legislature, the Reeves moved to Austin, where Goebel worked as a pageboy.  Reportedly, his first experience with hobos was in Austin; an encounter with a railroad bum left him enthralled with the lifestyle.  Reeves served as a bugler in the First World War, and was wounded on the front lines.  After the war, he turned to the life of a hobo, bumming across the nation and singing for a living.  Sometime in the 1920s, Reeves sailed to Europe as a merchant seaman.  Reeves claimed to have met and befriended Jimmie Rodgers, who at the time would have been working on the railroad as a brakeman.  He was also known to have made a variety of colorful claims that were verifiably false.  In the 1920s, Reeves performed on WFAA in Dallas, and made his first records for Okeh in 1929, spurred to do so after hearing Jimmie Rodgers on record.  Throughout the decade that followed, Reeves recorded for Gennett, Brunswick, and the American Record Corporation, under such names as “The Texas Drifter” and “George Riley.”  Throughout the 1930s, he made radio appearances on Rudy Vallée’s program, the WLS National Barn Dance, and the WSM Grand Ole Opry.  In 1933, he appeared at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago.  He made his final recordings in 1938, a series of non-commercial records for MacGregor & Sollie in Hollywood, California.  Reeves worked as a sailor again in the 1930s, and he entertained United States troops during World War II, before returning to the States to work for the government in internment camps in California, owing to the fact that he spoke Japanese.  Goebel Reeves later joined the Wobblies and retired to Bell Gardens, California, where he remained until a fatal heart attack on January 26, 1959, having lived quite a life.

MacGregor & Sollie MS 2635 and MS 2636 (or 875 and 876 depending on which number you choose to use) was recorded in 1938.  I haven’t been able to locate that actual date of recording.  It is pressed in Columbia style Royal Blue laminated shellac.

First, the Texas Drifter sings the old familiar “Pictures from Life’s Other Side”.

Pictures From Life's Other Side

Pictures From Life’s Other Side, recorded 1938 by The Texas Drifter.

On the reverse, Reeves recites his account of “The Hobo’s Convention”.

The Hobo's Convention

The Hobo’s Convention, recorded 1938 by The Texas Drifter.

Perfect 13090 – Bill Cox – 1933/1934

A Perfect sleeve emblazoned with the NRA Blue Eagle.

A Perfect sleeve displaying the NRA Blue Eagle (to the right, above Morton Downey.)

September 13, 1933 was “NRA Day”, celebrated in New York City with one of, if not the largest parade in the city’s history, complete with an appearance by the U.S. Navy’s airship U.S.S. Macon.

With today’s politics, hearing of the NRA brings to mind the National Rifle Association, but in days of yore, it held an entirely different meaning.  In the 1930s, the abbreviation referred to the National Recovery Administration.  That NRA was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s earliest New Deal agencies, created in 1933 by the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA).  With its signature “Blue Eagle” as the logo, the NRA set forth a series of codes and regulations intended to help employ more people and get the economy back on its feet.  Though popular with many workers, the NRA was ruled unconstitutional by Supreme Court, thus bringing it to an end in May of 1935.  During its existence from 1933 to 1935, NRA Blue Eagles were displayed in store windows and emblazoned on all sorts of consumer products, ranging from garments to fruit crates to record sleeves.

Perfect 13090 was recorded in two separate sessions on August 30, 1933 and September 9, 1934 at the American Record Corporation studios in New York City.  The former session was Cox’s first with the ARC, having recorded previously with the Starr Piano Company (Gennett).  Interestingly for a black label Perfect, this is a laminated pressing.

On this disc, the Dixie Songbird, Bill Cox laments to his sweetheart his employer’s delay in joining the NRA in “N. R. A. Blues”.  “When they gonna join the NRA?  Sweet thing, sweet thing.  When they gonna join the NRA, I never have heard the big boss say.  Sweet thing, yes baby mine.”

N. R. A. Blues, recorded August 30, 1933 by Bill Cox,

N. R. A. Blues, recorded August 30, 1933 by Bill Cox.

Starting out with a little bit of the old “Jack o’ Diamonds”, on the flip, Cox sings a low down old time country blues tune, “Hard Luck Blues”, sounding a bit like Jimmie Rodgers in his vocals on this side.  A Great Depression-era country tune evocative of Dust Bowl times.

Hard Luck Blues, recorded September 4, 1933 by Bill Cox.

Hard Luck Blues, recorded September 4, 1934 by Bill Cox.

Updated with improved audio on June 23, 2017.

Victor 20864 – Jimmie Rodgers – 1927

In early August 1927, Ralph Peer was continuing his recording sessions for Victor in Bristol, Tennessee, when he received a telephone call from a radio performer in Asheville, North Carolina, who had read of this opportunity in the newspaper, and was interested in recording with his string band.  Peer arranged for this man to meet for an audition.  Somewhere along the line, he had a disagreement with his band, and they parted ways before the audition.  Nevertheless, he auditioned before Peer, who saw a huge potential for success.  On August 4, 1927, Jimmie Rodgers made his first recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company, only two sides.  The first was his own composition, “The Soldier’s Sweetheart”, the second was the old yodel song, “Sleep, Baby, Sleep”.  The record was a hit, and Rodgers recorded with Victor again only a few months later, making the first of his famous Blue Yodels.  Over the course of the following six years, he became one of Victor top artists, one of the best-selling record artists of the Great Depression, and earned the moniker of the Father of Country Music.

Victor 20864 was recorded between 2:00 and 4:20 P.M. on August 4, 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee, the only two sides cut in Jimmie Rodgers Bristol session, and his first ever recordings.  It was released in October of 1927.

Jimmie’s second song at the session, but issued as the “A” side of his debut disc was his haunting rendition of John J. Handley’s old time yodel song, “Sleep Baby Sleep”.

Sleep Baby Sleep, recorded August 4, 1927 by Jimmie Rodgers.

Sleep Baby Sleep, recorded August 4, 1927 by Jimmie Rodgers.

Issued as the “B” side, Rodgers own composition “The Soldier’s Sweetheart” marked the first time that the voice of America’s Blue Yodeler was ever preserved in shellac.

The Soldier's Sweetheart, recorded August 4, 1927 by Jimmie Rodgers.

The Soldier’s Sweetheart, recorded August 4, 1927 by Jimmie Rodgers.

Victor 21470 – Jules Allen “The Singing Cowboy” – 1928

From 1930 Victor catalog.

From 1930 Victor catalog.

If there’s one thing I enjoy, it’s singing cowboys.  Not those Hollywood type like Roy Rogers (not that I have anything against Roy, I like him too), but the handful of real life cowboys that made recordings of songs from right there on the range in the 1920s and ’30s.  This record falls squarely into that category.  This was one of my lucky finds from a little store out in Mineral Wells, Texas, along with some other fine rural selections.  It’s likely been in Texas ever since it left the pressing plant in Camden.

Jules Verne Allen was born in 1883 in the charming little town of Waxahachie, Texas, he began working as a cowboy in the next decade, punching cattle from Montana to the Rio Grande.  He served his country in the Great War, enlisting in the Army in 1917.  For many years, Allen worked as an officer of the law, as a police officer and deputy sheriff in El Paso, and as a member of the legendary Texas Rangers.  As a cowboy, he learned the traditional songs of the West, played on the guitar, and when the Western phenomenon swept the nation in the late 1920s, Allen began performing those songs on the radio for WOAI in San Antonio and WFAA in Dallas.  Billed as the “Original Singing Cowboy”, he cut three sides for the Victor Talking Machine Co. on one of their field trips in El Paso in 1928, later making twenty more sides, of which all but one were issued.  One of the most popular of the early singing cowboys, in 1933, Allen wrote Cowboy Lore, a book detailing the life of a cowpuncher.  Continuing to perform on the radio into the 1940s, Allen died in 1945.

Victor 21470 was recorded April 21, 1928 by Jules Allen during one of Victor’s field trips in El Paso, Texas.  These two are Allen’s debut recordings.

First up, Allen sings N. Howard Thorp’s classic cowboy song, “Little Joe, the Wrangler”.

Little Joe, the Wrangler, recorded

Little Joe, the Wrangler, recorded April 21, 1928 by Jules Allen.

Next, Allen sings “Jack o’ Diamonds” in the old cowboy rather than the blues style associated with the likes of Blind Lemon Jefferson.  The last time we heard this tune, it sung by TCU physics professor Newton Gaines, and to be honest, I believe this one to be the better performance.

Jack o' Diamonds, recorded

Jack o’ Diamonds, recorded April 21, 1928 by Jules Allen.